Ending the foul play

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Ending the foul play

Ki Dong-min of the New Politics Alliance for Democracy has ducked out of the race for the July 30 by-election in the working-class constituency of Dongjak B District to help Roh Hoe-chan from the Justice Party, a labor activist-turned politician seeking a legislative comeback, to defeat a high-profile contestant from the ruling conservative party.

Opposition candidates Ki and Roe have been in discussions to unite to stand a better chance of winning against Na Kyung-won of the Saenuri Party in Dongjak B district in Seoul. The competition is drawing political and public attention not only because it is the only race in the capital in the upcoming by-election, but also because of the high-profile politicians involved. Ki is a former deputy Seoul mayor and a close aide to recently re-elected Mayor Park Won-soon. Roh is a labor activist-turned two-term lawmaker running in a constituency that traditionally favored the liberal party until conservative bigwig Chung Mong-joon won it over in the past two elections in 2008 and 2012.

The constituency became vacant after Chung left the seat to run in last month’s mayoral election, but he was defeated by incumbent mayor Park by a large margin. Na coincidentally had been beaten by Park in the 2011 Seoul mayoral by-election after the little-known civic activist and political novice gained support from then-rising political superstar Ahn Cheol-soo.

Korean politicians are notorious for snubbing ethical codes or fair play when they set out to win an election. The latest deal also undermines common sense, the political party system and election principles. Splitting constituencies and giving up nominations to unify candidacy are foul play. The opposition and liberal camp has been using the trick ever since it was successful in using it in the 2010 local elections. In the 2012 presidential election, the opposition Democratic Party formed a strategic alliance with the United Progressive Party (UPP) to throw support behind its candidate in return for guaranteeing constituencies to the splinter liberal party. The main opposition found itself in an awkward position after Lee Seok-ki, a key member of the UPP who won a legislative seat thanks to the political pact, was charged with the grave felony of attempting to overthrow the government.

The primary role of a political party is to prepare politicians to run in a competitive election. It is giving up its duty if it uses candidacy tickets as bargaining chips for political deals. If a party prefers a certain candidate, it should formally invite him or her to join its party. Marriages of convenience in the last stage of a campaign are an act of betrayal to voters. The practice must be ended.

JoongAng Ilbo, July 24, Page 30

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